Bechard's USA White Wins U.S. Women's National A2 Team Program Title
July 6, 2012
LAWRENCE, Kan. – After Kansas head volleyball coach Ray Bechard completed a nine-day stint coaching at this summer’s U.S. Women’s National A2 Team Program, the 15-year Jayhawk veteran reflected on his second experience with USA Volleyball, learning and working alongside the best in the game and coaching his team to an A2 team program title.
Bechard was one of eight collegiate coaches selected by USA Volleyball to lead this summer’s U.S. Women’s National A2 Team Program at Ohio Dominican University in Columbus, Ohio, June 26-July 5. The first four days of camp were dedicated to individual training and getting to know each player’s strengths. From there, a coaches “draft” determined which of four teams the 48 athletes in attendance would suit up for.
“We had a lot of fun and did a lot of work,” Bechard said. “The goal was to play everyone equally, so the first three days, the outcome wasn’t the important part. The last two days, we put them into bracket play and ramped it up a little bit. The stakes got higher and the coaches got a little more intense and competitive and that was really fun to see that develop – particularly with watching our own USA White team develop.”
Bechard teamed up with University of Georgia head coach Lizzy Stemke, and the duo evaluated their players and assembled the USA White team. While working different combinations in and out of the lineup, however, the team dropped all three matches during pool play and entered the semifinal round as the last seed.
Ready to rebound, USA White responded with a 3-1 win over top-seeded USA Blue (25-16, 20-25, 25-22, 25-14). In its next match, Bechard’s squad followed that win up with another upset, this time a 3-0 triumph over USA Gold (25-22, 25-22, 25-23) to take first.
“We finished with some momentum in the last day of pool play that I felt like carried over into the next day and into the semis, where we actually beat the No. 1 seed,” Bechard said. “Then, in the finals, we went on to win the match 3-0, which we felt we dominated from pretty much start to finish.”
In February, the 2012 U.S. Women’s National A2 Team program was selected through the U.S. Women’s National Team Open Tryouts held at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. A record 207 athletes, including several current Jayhawks, participated in the tryout.
The 48 that were invited to Columbus represented an elite group that serves as part of the USA Volleyball “pipeline” as Bechard and USA Volleyball Senior Director Tom Pingel described it.
“During the first day, the group was sitting in a meeting and Pingel said `one of you will probably be on our next Olympic team,’ and that got everyone’s attention right away,” Bechard recalled. “So it really is kind of like a `farm system’ for our Olympic team. We try to find and develop talent that will someday be able to compete with and help our national team.”
Aside from the group of athletes he helped coach, Bechard enjoyed working with an elite coaching staff, as well. Only eight were selected from around the country, providing two coaches for each of the four teams. It gave the KU veteran the opportunity to interact uniquely with other Division I coaches and interact with the former setter of the 1988 USA Men’s Volleyball gold medal winning team, Jeff Stork.
“I really enjoyed working with Lizzy from Georgia, who actually played a little bit with USA Volleyball back in her playing days,” Bechard said. “And then meeting Jeff Stork and hearing stories of his experiences, like playing in front of 40,000 fans in an outdoor match in Sao Paulo, Brazil, that was pretty priceless. We had chances to sit around during our down time and talk about volleyball. We were able to learn a lot from each other.”
With few breaks away from the gym, the USA Volleyball A2 program made it a point to spend time at a local Ronald McDonald house and visit with the patients and their families. Bechard was pleased with the players’ excitement to give back to a cause bigger than volleyball.
“We had a match later that afternoon, but we pulled up to a Children’s Hospital with a Ronald McDonald house across the street,” Bechard explained. “Some of the parents and kids that are staying there at that Ronald McDonald house, which serves such a great purpose, were happy to see us. Our players jumped right in to comfort the parents and the kids and do whatever they could to help. It was very rewarding and I know they enjoyed it.”
Bechard will begin his 15th season at the helm of the Jayhawk volleyball program this fall and his 27th season overall. The all-time winningest coach in KU volleyball history holds a remarkable 938-262 (.782) career record. In 14 seasons at Kansas, Bechard has a 222-202 mark, including 10 years at .500 or better.